Monday, June 22, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 23


Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 4


6/23, Tuesday, 8:45 AM. Mark came to visit at 10 instead of 9:30, our appointed time, so I wasn't able to go over his poems in-depth. He is a strong writer. The three poems he gave me are full of good writing.

When I read his homework poem, the sun that rises high on mankind, I'm a little suspicious—did he write it himself? It's a beautiful poem with the rhyme scheme, ABBA. But as it his? If so, he's a great poet. He runs little hot and a little cold as most of us do. I asked him to word gamble, or to do Bantu rhythms with me, and he came back with extended metaphor. Yeah, he's got the goods on tap. Maybe poetry can save lives.

From 10 to 10:40 AM, Annabel Bentley and Kathy Peterson brought the McGrath kids to me, five boys, from 4th to 6th grade. I was told that their writing and comprehension skills were on par with that of kindergarten through second grade writing level. However, when I had them read peer poems from Mark West School kids, they did just fine. So much for categories and I was delighted to discover that they have no trouble with making spontaneous metaphor whatsoever.

From 11 until 11:30 AM, I worked with Linda Wargo's other art class, the S-7 adolescent group, these boys were more together than her last group. Since we only had a half an hour, we read poems and talked about where we were from, and we made a group poem based on early memory, ending with being in the sanatorium… Moving forward in time, first person present memory. Powerful stuff.

The substitute librarian wanted to leave early, so I'm stuck working in the malodorous Xerox room. It really pisses me off. I can't even go to the bathroom without a fucking key. I'm pretty sure her leaving early, and leaving me unchaperoned like this is illegal.

Afternoon, 1:30 PM. Mark showed up on time. We went over his poems, including a new one, for 45 minutes. He said he got the idea for the new work from my imagery and revision lesson on the back of the Bantu rhythms hand-out. I guess my handouts are good for something. 

We also discussed the form and imagery in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. He wrote several approaches on a poem to the sun, and was able to use an orphan line that had been floating around in his head for ages. 

The other poem he gave me was from earlier work. When he was 29. He's 40 now. And he was well aware of the problems with old poems. He called it the problem of pseudo-intellectualism. I had to laugh. It was aptly played. His Dylan Thomas:poem was recently revised, and is much clearer than his earlier work. 

Mark wants to publish more work. Something we can work on. He says he has a friend who is a hard editor of his work. Mark is a poet of promise. His work needs fine tuning. His homework is to write about the past, 10 and 20 years ago using imagery from that era. (Before his crime.)

The rest of the afternoon I spent talking with Bart Swain about the structure of Napa and the quirks of madness, how it manifests,and plays out. I was trying to get a handle on the inmates whom I was working with. Steep learning curve. Shoptalk, I was newly arriived. I had to admit that I was beginning to worry that I identified more with the inmates, than with the staff. 

And I couldn't help but wonder if poets were closet sociopaths who didn't act on their murderous impulses. we just write about it. Sweet revenge.


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